On this day, we celebrate the 122nd anniversary of the birthday of the Empress of the Blues herself, Bessie Smith.
Bessie Smith was born on April 15, 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, though the 1900 census reported that she was born in 1892. Both her parents died while she was still a child, and she and Bessie and some of her siblings turned to busking to make ends meet. Her brother left to join Moses Stoke’s troupe in 1910, and returned later to take Bessie with him. She worked, variously, in stage shows and on the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit. In 1923, Smith was in New York, and made her first records for Columbia, with whom she would remain for the rest of her career, save for a few Columbia’s subsidiary Okeh. She became a fixture of the Harlem Renaissance, and the highest paid black performer in the United States. In 1929, she made her only filmed appearance in St. Louis Blues. Hard times came with the Great Depression however, she made her final recordings on Columbia in 1931, and after a hiatus, made four more in 1933 for Okeh, accompanied by Buck Washington and his band, which proved to be her last.
In the wee hours of September 26, 1937, Bessie was riding down Highway 61—”the Blues Highway”—with her lover at the wheel, when his Packard collided with a slow-moving truck ahead. Bessie was mortally wounded. The first to arrive at the scene was one Dr. Smith who dressed Bessie’s wounds while his fishing buddy called for an ambulance. After some time passed with no ambulance in sight, the doctor decided to move Bessie in his own car, when another car came screaming down the road and plowed into Bessie’s Packard, which bounced off Dr. Smith’s car and landed in the ditch off the side of the road. Finally, two ambulances arrived, one from the white hospital, and another from the black hospital. Bessie Smith was taken to the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where her badly injured right arm was amputated, but she never regained consciousness, and died that morning. (Contrary to rumors propagated by John Hammond, she did not die as a result of being brought to an all-white hospital, as she was not taken to an all-white hospital.)
Columbia 14427-D was recorded May 8, 1929 in New York City by Bessie Smith. She is accompanied on piano by Clarence Williams and on guitar by Eddie Lang. The DAHR shows takes “2” and “3” were issued on both sides, these are “3” and “2”, respectively. Both sides are more than a bit on the raunchy side, so if you’re a prude, you may want to turn back here.
On the first side of this disc, Bessie sings “I’m Wild About That Thing”, probably one of her more famous tunes.
On the reverse, Smith sings the equally racy “You’ve Got to Give Me Some”.